Teens, Our New Enemy

The amount of hatred and disgust that is spewed on our young people each summer is comparable to that to which the Palestinians and, more recently, the African migrants, are subjected.

Summer vacation has just begun but the first signs of public resentment toward the familiar enemy from previous summers, children and teens, are apparent. The young fill the malls in the morning and the public parks at night. They speak an incomprehensible language, wear strange clothing, make noise, get drunk and above all they are violent. They are a nuisance that must be removed from the streets.

The amount of hatred and disgust that is spewed on our young people each summer is comparable to that to which the Palestinians and, more recently, the African migrants, are subjected. The common denominator is Israeli society's fear of them.

The facts don't get in the way of the demonization. According to official police statistics, youth violence actually drops in the summer months. An average of 2,349 juvenile criminal investigations were opened in July and in August of 2010, compared to 3,179 such cases in January of that year and 2,902 in February. A study carried out by the police reveals that the decline in crime during the summer is not a blip, a statistical anomaly, but rather a trend over many years that pertains to a wide range of offenses from property crimes to violence against individuals.

In the past several years there has been a constant decrease in the number of criminal files opened against minors. The National Council for the Child determined that whereas in 2004 there were 58.3 files for every 1,000 juveniles in the population, by 2010 this number had declined to 40 per 1,000, a drop of more than 30 percent.

The common explanation for the decline, increased enforcement by police, may not be correct. Increased enforcement could be expected to result in more investigations, not fewer. The Israel Police, for their part, are in no rush to claim credit for the decline. One cannot help thinking that maybe our children and teenagers are less violent than is claimed by those Knesset members who rush to submit bills after every reported instance of extreme violence perpetrated by young people.

The growing trend by local governments, especially in prosperous communities, of hiring private security firms to patrol their public squares and parks at night to address "noise makers" is the latest expression of the fight against the young, which has many worrisome aspects. It goes beyond privatizing the license to use force, once the exclusive province of the police and, to a lesser extent, municipal inspectors, and putting it in the hands of private companies with vaguely defined authorities and limited supervision. Of more concern is the Pavlovian response of solving social problems with force.

Had they listened to complaints from their children and teens, local authorities might have chosen other solutions, such as organizing evening activities for them or merely taking the trouble to provide lighted basketball courts, rather than hiring private guards with guns and handcuffs. But attentiveness is being eroded in Israeli society, which considers listening wimpy. Problems are to be solved by force, the more the better. And then the adults roll their eyes and say they are against violence.

The war against the young is not restricted to parks in the summer. It can be felt clearly in the Israeli education system, which sanctifies order and discipline. The more the protection of children's rights developed, mainly thanks to the 2000 Pupils' Rights Law, the more a coalition of various bodies - the education minister who believes in "zero tolerance," the teachers unions that support punishment and expulsion, the parents who are afraid of losing their authority - tries to restrict them. The not-hidden message is that teens are potential predators, not human beings. To blame teens for society's ills is just another way of avoiding coping courageously with reality. We created the violent society in which we live, not our children.